The North Dallas Plot to Take Over DISD

Rich, white, North Dallas businessmen are plotting to take over Dallas' schools. Maybe this time it'll work.

"You talk about naïve," Kress says. "I was kind of a progressive Democratic politician wading into all this, and I had no idea. I had been the Democratic Party chairman, and I had worked with a lot of people, and I wandered into this. It was a rude awakening"

Kress remembers trying to persuade the late Kathlyn Gilliam, an African-American board member, that it was important to keep affluent white people from turning their backs on the district.

"She used to give me lectures on Park Cities types and North Dallas types," he recalls. "I felt that there were a lot of people on the right who would just as soon build their gated communities and get the hell out of here, take their money and their kids and just sort of write it off.

Mark Melton scrambled to the top.
Jay Barker
Mark Melton scrambled to the top.
Harlan Crow had all but written off Dallas schools when he saw glimmers of hope and decided to kick in and contribute.
Jay Barker
Harlan Crow had all but written off Dallas schools when he saw glimmers of hope and decided to kick in and contribute.

"I said to her, 'You cannot let these people go. When you let them go, it's not going to be good for African-American kids.'

"She thought I was an idiot, mainly because these people had been shits for centuries to her community and to her kids, which was true. So how do you deal with all these things?"

Bob Weiss, now vice president for administration of the philanthropic Meadows Foundation, was an important behind-the-scenes supporter of Kress back in the day and a proponent of reform. He thinks one of the big lessons of time is just that — time. Reformers in that earlier wave were naïve about how much time it would take to get anything important accomplished.

"The degree of difficulty and the complexity of it was totally underestimated," Weiss says. "I think the overlay of class and race was underappreciated against what looked like objective data about results."

During the long, agonizing passage from that earlier campaign to now, some of Kress' fears of white abandonment certainly were realized. It's hard to believe many people didn't simply give up on DISD. One of the more intriguing aspects of the new movement is that it may be helping turn some of that around already.

The second-largest benefactor of the two education PACs after Ken Barth is Harlan Crow, chairman and chief executive officer of Crow Family Holdings, a company devoted to managing the assets of the heirs of the late Trammell Crow. In his early 60s, Crow is a very wealthy man with a reputation for consorting with conservative political figures like his buddy, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

I asked Crow why he thought all of this reform activity was churning up just now.

"That's a fair question," he says. "I have asked myself that same question. The answer is this: As the years have gone by, the long number of years, I did lose hope for DISD, and I just put it out of my thought process as something I wouldn't pay attention to.

"I ignored it, because I felt like it was hopeless. And then maybe a couple years ago I started to see some stirring of good things happening over there. I didn't pay a lot of attention, because I don't wake up thinking about that.

"But then I started thinking, well, shoot, maybe I'll pay a little more attention. And I did that. And I came to the conclusion that there is hope today. And, gosh, if there is hope, it's worth spending a little time and money and putting some oxygen to it."


Mike Miles, the incoming superintendent of schools, is well aware of the reform movement in Dallas and conversant with the principles of cradle-to-graduation and collaborative impact. I spoke to him briefly by phone from Colorado Springs, where he is winding up his tenure as a superintendent before reporting for work in Dallas.

"I welcome groups like Commit! because I think then we can focus and channel those efforts," Miles says.

I ask him who is going to run the district, him or Commit! He chuckles.

"You don't know me," he says. "I was hired to do the job. I'm not going to let somebody else do the job. I'm going to do the job. But, look, you can't run a district the size of Dallas without partners. I hope that almost goes without saying. I'm not a Lone Ranger. I'm not going to go it alone. You gotta have the community involved."

When I spoke with DISD trustee Morath, I asked him about generational change. I told him that the affluent white men I had been interviewing for this story all had personal experiences of diversity, both ethnic and economic, that made them quite unlike what I had come to expect of affluent white men of my own (older) generation.

Morath agreed. "As more and more people have more exposure, race as a category means less and less, and that's only going to happen as generations come and go. People have to die off."

I silently hoped that would not have to include me or Crow any time soon. But I saw what he meant.

The new reformers don't have every answer. I'm not sure we know yet that they have any answers. But they're also not your grandfather's rich white people. Well, wait. I guess they're not my rich white people.

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24 comments
Jboyer
Jboyer

There are many problems with our educational system but the worst is the way we educate our children. Back in the "olden days" when students attended a one room school house literacy rates were 95%. Home schooled children probably get the best education but not every one can do that. Montessori students have a 95% graduation rate and 88% go on to higher education. Wikipedia, Ebay, Facebook, Google were all founded by people w/ montessori educations. Given those stats vs the stats of traditional schools I can't believe the system wasn't overhauled years ago. Why do we continue to waste our time on traditional schools that were set up over half a century ago and have proved to be ineffective decade after decade. Until we change the way we educate we are just wasting resources on a system that will never work. Jboyer

Cesar39nt
Cesar39nt

UNFORTUNATELY, our citizens{white,well educated,stupid as all hell, and looking for worthless bridges to buy} will never see past these criminals in good suits, they keep piling into texas making us look like the hub of criminal activity in the southwest makes me ashamed to be white, but at least i see it and im not ignorant enough to cast my votes for those guys, mike rawlins, you bought the mayors office and i hope you get the same as your cohort john wilkey price

John_silencer
John_silencer

Just as I thought the sharks smell money. the predators are coming --charter schools

John_silencer
John_silencer

As I read this article it briings to mind Bain Capital. In the business world of DISD there is plenty of money laying around and all you have to do to raid it is to sdtick a few lenient rules or lines in the agenda and that person is in for the big bucks. Right now to get thsoe bucks just create another line of charter schools and shut down a few more schools and you have the dollars walking ithrough the doors of thsoe charter schools. so you have to kleep your eye onm Mr Weasel and also the chicken house or the chickens get eaten and you end up with no chickens, in otherwords the students are outsourced to a charter school

Been there!
Been there!

As long as the children and parents are considered "customers" when they are the ones paying, through taxes, for their own education, the outlook looks very dim. If these Great White Fathers (as we used to call W.T.White) care about education for all, then they should start with the Lege and actually support two- year colleges, smaller classes in secondary schools, etc. I perceive one huge flaw in all of this "Commit" stuff: this is not the Jr. league, and it is not a business. Joyce Foreman is right and Dallas should prove her wrong by demonstrating that we do want parents and children in public schools to care that all participating in the world of education become critical thinkers. This all reminds me of the current ads being pushed by EXXON whee they tout their funding of science education while simultaneously funding their opposing of climate change! Weird, but typical.

Bbetzen
Bbetzen

A more troubling side of DISD is reflected in the most recent version 4.1 of the DISD budget. A one page spreadsheet at http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2012/06/dallas-isd-2012-13-budget-moving.html shows the correlation between student/teacher ratios in DISD high schools and how they generally go up, with more students per teacher, as the poverty level for the students in a school go up. This data comes directly from the 669 page DISD budget available online. This is nothing new, but it is sad to see this correlation continuing. If this bothers you, come to one of the budget meetings happening all over Dallas this evening.

Paul
Paul

I pretty much stopped at the opening line of "... was a successful fund manager at Goldman Sachs." What does "successful" mean at Goldman Sachs? Made money for the clients; or, generated lots of fees for Goldman Sachs? Why "was a successful fund manager", did he get canned for not being "successful"? Remember, this guy comes from a company that was at ground zero for the financial meltdown. This was the company that had no problem packaging up "far below subprime mortgages" presenting them as investment grade securities and then turning around and shorting the very same product. Do we really want someone from a company like Goldman Sachs to be within reach of the $1+ billion dollar DISD budget? Children will not excel and succeed academically at DISD until their parents light a fire underneath them. If children are not guided by their parents to excel in their education, they will not. There is an entry in the Unfair Park blog about "asian" children being successful academically. The reason why is that their parents place a premium on academic success and make sure that their children realize that. Get ready for another round of money wasting, race baiting, and payoffs ...

Cares About Kids
Cares About Kids

It's all about governance and getting a board that puts the interests of kids first in every decision vs. acting as a "jobs and spread the contract dollars around program". That's why people are screaming...because Miles is saying he is not afraid to create heavy turnover to get the right people in the right seats vs. hiring based on race or who you know. Only a kids first board will support those actions, and to get quality people to run you need to raise money so they don't feel all they are doing is asking for money which most people of integrity (who have no intention of paying favors later if elected) hate to do.

Downndallas
Downndallas

As a taxpayer in DISD, I'm not sure what to think about this endeavor. On one hand, DISD is a mess and this District hasn't been able to improve their/our situation at all. Money has been embezzled and misused for years, while our kids have continued to struggle and suffer. So, the current status-quo is unacceptable. Now, we have wealthy North Dallas "businessmen" showing an interest in our children, or is this just another endeavor to try to rid the state of the public educational system, or some other right-wing conspiracy/agenda??? If this were any state other than Texas, I probably wouldn't be so suspicious of these wealthy white men, but this is the state that has re-elected a governor time and time again, that is notoriously anti-public education. Who's to say that this isn't just another "conservative" group with the same agenda??? Also, is money truly the ONLY problem with DISD??? I don't think so. The problems with DISD is the lack of parenting, kids who aren't motivated to learn, bad teachers (not all, but there are quite a few), and a corrupt administration. Throwing more money at these problems isn't going to help. However, I do feel that a grassroots effort such as the Commit! organization shows some promise. So, perhaps the North Dallas businessmen and Commit! should get together because it's going to take a community based effort to correct this catastrophic school system.

Cares About Kids
Cares About Kids

You have zero clue on what you are talking about...these guys are spending tens to hundreds of thousands (in Williams case literally millions) of their own money with zero ability or desire to participate in DISD contracts...for the most part they live in Dallas and pay DISD taxes except for Crow, so this isn't about making Highland Park real estate more valuable because of its schools...if DISD schools don't do well, their property values go down. All of these bloggers say follow the money, but the only money I see is flowing out of their pockets with no dollars in return. Only in a district as dysfunctional as DISD can some be vilified for giving a shit and putting their money where their mouth is while the cynical cranks in the popcorn section complain while offering zero solutions other than the status quo. They want to fire Miles and he hasn't even officially started yet. Wake up people!!!

Guest
Guest

Not that hard to figure the new game out, Jim. Rich white folks are down trolling for money out of the Dallas ISD budget, same as it ever was. The few hundred thousands you are drooling about is just chump change bait to set up the game. Same as ever, when there is some Billion Dollar$ all piled up together, it draws sharks, just like blood in the water. They need to buy influence, so that will go through with higher admin salaries and reduced pay for bottom end teachers -- ensuring a crap product for the bottom end kids. Have to keep in mind, you cannot have a Plantation Nation model with a Big House if you do not create the contrasting Slave Quarters. It is creating the crap end that makes the Top End premium. New game will be Charters in the Top End side of things. While many of the Charters on the South Side have been sort of crap, that will not be the game on the Top Side. New charters on the North Side will be sold as College Prep, with limited admissions. Do the money math on this, and you will see the Cash Flow.

Mustardseed
Mustardseed

They still can't say what the hell reform is - how is this a good article? Its nothing but crap - shame on you Jim - you are sitting on real journalism and refuse to write it.

Ck
Ck

yes miles please leave..

Bbetzen
Bbetzen

Marcus, school choice is not a solution. It is short term at best. Why allow schools that people would want to move their children out of? The complaints must be encouraged at the school level so the problems can be fixed. Demanding parents are the best resource there is for good education. Every school needs them. When they are neutralized by school choice you have removed the best resource for true school reform. We must value demanding parents, but too many schools in DISD don't. Drive up to any public school. If the parking places closest to the front door are for the staff, then you have a school that does not really invite parents in based on such "body language." If the school has the 10 spaces closest to the door designated for visitors, then you have a school that encourages parental envolvement. It is a different atmosphere.

Bbetzen
Bbetzen

If my memory of the reporting and fighting that went on in the press 16 years ago is correct, DISD and Dallas have come a long way. Is this real progress? Statistically it is! As recently as the DISD Class of 2007 almost 60% of the full enrollment of that original 9th grade enrollment for the Class of 2007 was missing at graduation - AKA dropouts. Then within 4 years, with the Class of 2011, that dropout calculation was less than 48% for the first time in well over 16 years in DISD! The Class of 2011 set graduation rate records, even with all the testing! DISD is making very real progress. Since 2005 the 9th grade bulge has virtually disappeared. One third of the 9th grade is no longer repeating the 9th grade at least once. That is a major achievement!! It used to be that most DISD dropouts never made it to the 10th grade. Now DISD has the highest 10th, 11th and 12th grade enrollments in years. While all this progress is happening we are NOT going backwards with SAT and ACT scores. We are not seeing real progress, but we are not going backwards either as the graduation rates rise. See http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2012/05/dallas-isd-academic-graduation-rate.html The Class of 2012 should set another graduation rate record with the largest graduation class in decades. Now we need to work on getting higher SAT/ACT scores while we continue to get higher graduation rates. Motivation is the issue. We must more actively focus our students onto their own futures. We must make the future real. It can be done! Paying more attention to what is happening in DISD is the best investment possible for the future of Dallas. We are now finally, since 2005, seeing REAL progress! Just look at the charts linked above, and the SAT/ACT scores. We have a LONG way to go, but DISD has not been going backwards at all. All the data points to real progress, year after year since 2005. That progress needs to become normal as we focus more and more on the data every year. The DISD web site should have an ongoing spreadsheet online similar to the one at http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2012/05/dallas-isd-academic-graduation-rate.html so as to allow an "official" tracking of DISD data over the years. The public will then know constantly how DISD is doing. Much of that data is now on the DISD web site, but it is not easy to locate.

Marcus D Cunningham
Marcus D Cunningham

The issue I have with these groups is twofold: 1) They refer to this new paradigm of school reform, one that is supposedly proven. If no one can accurately define the reform they're seeking, how is it proven? I have not seen one example of transforming public schools that is purely focused on mass-educating an inner-city population. Eventually it always comes back to school choice. 2) The only concrete plan for these reforms I got from the article is rooting out the bad teachers. Why are we so convinced that teachers are at fault? There's no union, so you can't blame them. After you take away most of the teaching experience out of the district, what happens then? Fill the schools with TFA? (this coming from someone who supports the org) Let's develop a credible measure for teacher impact before we decide which we should and shouldn't dump. I think there's reason to be suspicious of any groups who take a sudden interest in turning around education. However, I'll be happy to listen if they can provide actual plans that don't involve siphoning off the best students.

Marcus D Cunningham
Marcus D Cunningham

Its actually the opposite...HP's district is superior because of those high home vales. Funding is probably the biggest factor to district success.

Guest
Guest

Complete garbage. You've been hanging out with Joyce Foreman, whose primary skill (when she's not dreaming up similarly lunatic conspiracy theories) seems to be backing candidates in elections that always seem to lose.

stephen
stephen

they (the white, rich establishment) want to privatize public schools...it's not about helping disadvantaged kids...they could care less about that in reality, it's about doing away with Robin Hood and then doing away with public education. If you don't educate people, it's easier to to force them to work in menial jobs and keep them in their place...

Joe L
Joe L

I'd be inclined to question their judgment if they are white and can afford to send their kids and grandkids some where else, but send them to DISD. There is hostility to whites in the DISD as is evidenced in the racial sparring reflected here.

Poster Atat
Poster Atat

Aren't the Black Panthers a violent threatening racist group? Shouldn't that be illegal?

Downndallas
Downndallas

CAK, I hope you're right about Miles, and I do hope he will bring in fresh new faces who will put the needs of the children first. I get really upset when I see the same faces appointed/transferred/promoted to new boards due to cronyism, but those same people have miserably failed in their previous endeavors. Also, you're right- a "kids first" objective should be first and foremost with all involved, but we know that's not exactly the case in a lot of circumstances which is part of the reason why we're in the mess we're in today. It's unfortunate that so much money is needed in all elections whether federal, state, or local. The influence of money in this country will be our downfall.

asu87
asu87

it's probably a bit of chicken or the egg theory---but knowing what happens to your home value when you live across a district line is very interesting. At one time I lived across a creek that separated disd from plano isd...my disd based home took 6 months longer to sell than average and eventually brought much less than market value...all prospects on the home with children sited disd as a major issue. education is very important to parents, they will spend money on private school to make certain that their kids get the best...if disd delivered "the best" this would be a positive and more money would roll in from increased home values. problem is---disd is not very good in most cases. I believe it comes down to organization of the schools, not just money to the teachers.

 
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